We've all heard the saying that "women like fixing men" or that a woman "shouldn't try to fix a man." It's often meant in sort of a glib context, or as a critique of female dating, something women ought not to do. It's often recognized as a toxic trait or as disempowering to women.
But in many ways, this is an oversimplified idea that we often take for granted without further scrutiny. Women seek to fix men for a number of reasons, some of which are problematic, and others merely reveal an inherent feminine desire to bring out the best.
First Off, Do Women Actually Like To Fix Men?
If we take a look at pop-culture and media, this is a trope, and a well-worn one at that. It's essentially the gist of every romance book on the market. Think about your favorite romance stories. Many of them contain this trope in a variety of forms. From bad boys like Edward Cullen in Twilight and Hardin Scott in After, to classics like Gone with the Wind, Rebecca, and Wuthering Heights, the trope of women "fixing" men is an age-old classic. And this is probably because it bears a kernel of truth. Women like to fix men. Or at least they like the idea of it.
There recently came out a remake of a ‘90s romcom classic, She's All That, retitled for the modern audience, He's All That, in which a pretty, popular high school girl attempts to "fix" a nerdy, awkward teen boy and relinquish him from the shackles of his own un-coolness to find the hunk beneath. The movie centers around a bet that she can make him homecoming king and therefore prove her ability to give anyone a makeover.
There’s something so satisfying about a transformative act of beautification.
And who doesn’t love a good makeover story? There’s something so satisfying about a transformative act of beautification. Bonus points if we find out he’s actually been a secret swoon-worthy dreamboat all along, and we just needed him to take off his shirt to discover the truth.
But “fixing” men isn’t merely about giving him a new haircut and jeans that actually fit. Women fix men for a number of reasons. In fact, fixing men comes in three forms: 1) changing a man for your own gain, 2) fixing the damaged, broken man, and 3) reigning in the bad boy.
Changing a Man for Your Own Gain
Women have a natural inclination to improve. To nurture and to beautify their surroundings. In some sense, there’s a biological explanation. Women are hypergamous, and are therefore looking for the best mate they can find – and if they have to do some remodeling to get the best mate, then so be it.
Women are also status-seeking creatures. It has often been said that women dress for other women rather than for men, but I believe this is only half right. Women dress for men, so that they can attain a high-status partner, so as to impress other women. Therefore, women have a vested interest in attaining a high-status man, and using whatever feminine charms are at their disposal to do so. Such is the case in He’s All That.
Women dress for men, so they can attain a high-status partner, so as to impress other women.
And yet trying to change a man to better suit your vision of how he ought to be is not only selfish, but manipulative, and, as the heroine in He’s All That learns, this is not a good foundation on which to build a healthy relationship.
The truth of the matter is that we all try to change our partners in some way, whether that be trying to help them match their tie to their shoes, or getting them to go the gym more often. And yet there is a line, and once crossed it can wreak havoc on the trust of a relationship. It’s hard to trust a partner who is constantly trying to fix, change, or upgrade you – and worse so when done via nagging. As women, it’s our job to try and reign in our desire to upgrade, fix, change, or nag our partners, and instead encourage, support, and love our partners, where and as they are.
Fixing the Damaged or Broken Man
This trope makes for a great romance novel, but real life? Not so much.
This trope stems from a desire to fix, to heal, to nurture, and to prove her love via “saving” him. In fact, this trope is perhaps more about “saving” him than “fixing” him. Some examples of this might be trying to save the man with substance abuse problems, a history of crime, past trauma, or someone who has forsaken the idea of love and marriage due to past heartbreak.
A woman’s desire to save may also be rooted in a need to prove that she is "not like other girls." That she, and perhaps she alone, can mend his broken heart and fix whatever has kept him from love in the past. Women like the challenge of breaking past a man’s stony exterior to find the warm, cuddly Prince Charming beneath. The challenge is part of the allure. For example, there’s an episode of Sex and the City in which Charlotte dates a man who has lost his wife. She’s entranced by the idea of comforting him, or proving herself to him by “fixing” his pain, only to find out he uses this gambit to date many women.
A woman’s desire to save may also be rooted in a need to prove that she is "not like other girls."
While this trope gets a bad rap, it comes with mostly good intentions, albeit naïve ones. And yet it’s important to recognize that women are not rehabilitation centers for broken men. It’s not our job to fix men. Likewise, it’s not enough to merely like the idea of someone, we must like them for who they really are. Falling for someone due to past trauma and how we think we can fix them isn’t real love and it’s not stable ground for a healthy relationship.
Reigning in the Bad Boy
Who doesn’t love the idea of dating a bad boy?
Camila Cabello put it best when she sang, “A little bit older, a black leather jacket, a bad reputation, insatiable habits.” But as Taylor Swift famously sang, “I knew you were trouble when you walked in.” And so the story goes. Women love the danger – the thrill – of dating a bad boy. There’s truly something irresistibly exciting about being with a man cloaked in a layer of darkness. Someone who is unpredictable, even if that unpredictability means we might get hurt in the end.
Not all women want to “fix” the bad boy. But most do, even if they aren’t being totally honest about it. The challenge of reigning him in is part of the bad boy’s allure.
This trope, like fixing the damaged man, is often intricately connected with the "not like other girls" attitude, in which the woman who goes about trying to reform the bad boy, or trying to find the chink in his armor, is often doing so in an effort to prove her own superiority. She is not like other girls. She can tame the bad boy. She can capture his heart in a way no other girl could because she is different.
Remember, women are status-seeking creatures, who desire the challenge of proving their superiority, and there is truly no better venue of female competition than the challenge of getting the bad boy to commit.
But why the bad boy? Isn't he bad? Why would a hypergamous woman want to be with a bad boy or someone who is emotionally unavailable?
Well, that's the appeal you see.
Getting the emotionally unavailable bad boy to commit proves a woman’s desirability.
It means she has to fight for his attention, she has to prove herself worthy. Being chosen by a "bad boy," or someone who is emotionally unavailable, is like defeating the final boss in a video game. It's a badge of honor. Getting the emotionally unavailable bad boy to commit proves a woman’s desirability.
Women often have a "chosen one" mentality in which they’re looking to be chosen, to be scoped out in a crowd, to be picked out of a sea of other desirable women. It’s meaningless to a woman to be chosen by a man who doesn't have other options. Rather, she retains status by being chosen out of a pool of other qualified candidates.
Oscar Wilde put it best when he famously said, "Men always want to be a woman's first love – women like to be a man's last romance." His modern-day counterpart, Lauren Conrad, also put it pretty succinctly on The Hills when she said, "Every girl wants to be the one girl who can change that guy." Both Conrad and Wilde are getting at the same point here: Every woman wants to earn her place in the heart of a man who has other options.
So, Is Fixing Men a Bad Thing?
Not necessarily. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to fix things.
It's important for women to embrace the benefits of a feminine desire to cultivate, nurture, beautify, and improve, while also acknowledging the pitfalls and detriments as well. In many cases, the desire to "fix" comes from a woman's natural inclination to prove herself and her feminine virtues. But unchecked and with the wrong intentions, it can quickly dissolve into nagging and signaling that you don't actually like someone for who they are. Men aren't cars to be taken into the shop for annual repairs, and they shouldn't be treated as such. It’s also easy for women to become prideful when it comes to fixing men in which they believe that they, and perhaps they alone, know what's best for someone else, and that it’s their duty to step in and make changes.
Men aren't cars to be taken into the shop for annual repairs, and they shouldn't be treated as such.
Likewise, the bad boys and those with piles of emotional baggage may seem like sexy forbidden fruit, in need of our feminine virtues, but in many cases, they can be toxic, emotional minefields that we can end up wasting our time on. Or worse, getting hurt.
It's also important for us as women to work on fixing ourselves before we leap in and try to "fix" someone else. If we want to find a good guy, then we bear a responsibility for cultivating ourselves into a woman who is worthy of the guy we think we deserve. Contrary to popular belief, we’re not "owed" Prince Charming by virtue of being female.
We live in a world that’s quick to tell women they’re perfect just the way they are while constantly reinforcing all the ways in which men need to change. But this is no more true for men than it is for women. Women are not perfect just the way they are. We, like men, are flawed human beings who require personal growth, accountability, forgiveness, and humility.
If we’re serious about finding a great partner, it’s imperative that both men and women focus the fixing mindset inward and focus on personal growth. This is a far better strategy for building and maintaining a healthy relationship.
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